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Vietnam veteran’s legacy: $2.8M to Montevideo Veterans Home

Marv Garbe of the American Legion salutes to honor the veterans during the Montevideo Veterans Home presentation of the donation from the family of the late Steve Williams Wednesday, Dec. 5. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service1 / 3
Veterans were asked to stand while a banner was revealed with the words “Welcome home brother,” which was a popular phrase the late Steve Williams would say, at the Montevideo Veterans Home donation presentation at the American Legion. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service2 / 3
Nieces of the late Steve Williams, Laura Aho, left, and Sara Mousel Williams, smile while listening to their family members speak about their uncle at the American Legion in Montevideo. Erica Dischino / Forum News Service3 / 3

MONTEVIDEO –- Steve Williams did not receive a big welcome home after he returned from his service in the Vietnam War, but his legacy will be to provide a home where other veterans will know their service is appreciated.

His surviving family members contributed $2.8 million from his estate trust fund to the Montevideo Veterans Home project. The announcement was made Wednesday, Dec. 5, at a celebration at the American Legion in Montevideo. It’s the largest gift ever to a Minnesota veterans home, according to Commissioner Larry Shellito of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. Along with a thank you to the Williams family, Shellito delivered a proclamation from Gov. Mark Dayton declaring Wednesday as “Steve Williams Day” in recognition of the gift.

Hundreds of people, many of them veterans, joined with elected officials and former colleagues of Williams from Hormel to applaud the family.

“They did not receive a welcome home. They came home to protests,’’ said Jim Williams, speaking about his late brother and other Vietnam veterans like him. Williams said his brother’s legacy now is that of protecting his brother veterans and his service to country.

The donation brought the local community’s donation to the veterans home project to $7.4 million, along with $9.4 million approved by the Legislature in bond funds for the project. If Congress approves funding for the project, federal matching dollars could total $31.5 million, with essentially a two-to-one ratio of federal funds to local and state monies, according to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

Montevideo is planning to build a 72-bed facility. Bemidji and Preston also obtained state funds to build veterans home to complement the five currently operating in the state.

Steve Williams died unexpectedly at age 70 on March 14, 2018, in Nevada, where he was living. A 1966 graduate of Clarkfield High School, he served in the Army in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam during 1968-69. After graduating in marketing from Southwest State University in Marshall, he began a 30-year career in sales with Hormel. He was briefly married and had no children. Jim Williams said his brother had a successful career with Hormel, was frugal and invested wisely. His estate trust is valued at $14.5 million.

Jim Williams had told his brother about the Montevideo Veterans Home project over a year ago while his brother was putting together the trust fund. He said his brother was excited about it. He had already listed a number of veterans organizations as beneficiaries when he unexpectedly died. The organizations agreed to allocate a portion of their funds to the Montevideo Veterans Home.

Design work on the Montevideo home is underway, with hope that a groundbreaking can be held in autumn 2019.

“We are not across the finish line yet,’’ said Douglas Hughes, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs. He said Congress must yet allocate funds for the veterans homes.

Hughes said he is hopeful. He believes Minnesota has well-prepared plans that will win funding support.

“We’re gonna make this happen,’’ said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson to the crowd.

Montevideo has campaigned for 11 years to obtain state funding for a veterans home. Marv Garbe, Montevideo City Council president, and Angie Steinbach, interim city manager, helped lead that effort. Both told the audience Wednesday that it was the continued support of so many community members through those years who made success possible.

“It’s now a reality because of each one of you who supported the project,’’ Steinbach said. “It’s what our veterans need and what they deserve.’’

The home will be built in Montevideo on land donated by the city. It will create the equivalent of 110 full-time jobs. It will likely employ over 140 full- and part-time workers, according to Hughes.

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is already working with educational facilities in the area to make possible career training opportunities for prospective workers. Finding health care workers is difficult across the state, Hughes said.

“We know this is going to be our greatest challenge,’’ Hughes said in reference to finding workers for the three new veterans homes to be built in the state.